Intersectionality

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Description

Michael Rectenwald:

"“Intersectionality” is the axiomatic oppression-ranking framework that establishes a new social justice hierarchy based on the multiplicities of oppression as they may intersect and affect subjects in multiple, supposedly subordinated social categories. It is no less than a scale for weighing oppression. It then inverts the supposedly existing hierarchy on the basis of this intersectional oppression ranking, moving those on the bottom to the top, and vice versa. This is not a temporary feature of social justice but represents a hierarchical inversion that must be maintained to engender the animus and ressentiment necessary to continue fueling the movement.

This ranking system began with the work of the Hungarian and Soviet literary critic and Marxist philosopher György Lukács. In his book, History and Class Consciousness (1923), Lukács introduced a form of epistemology that has had an outsized impact ever since, serving as a source for postmodern theory and social justice.[2] The social justice notion that each person has their own truth based on their particular type of subordination can be traced to Lukács. He argued that the unique position of the working class within the social order and the relations of production provide the proletariat with a privileged vantage-point for discerning objective truth and called the theory “proletarian standpoint epistemology.” Lukács argued that reality under capitalism is a single objective reality. But the proletarian has a peculiar relationship to objective reality. The objective world strikes the proletarian differently than it does the capitalist. Like the capitalist, the proletarian is a self-conscious subject. However, unlike the capitalist, the proletarian is also a commodity, an object for sale on the market. The proletarian’s consciousness of the commodification of his selfhood contradicts his experience as living subject, a person with a subjective existence. The proletariat’s “self-consciousness of the commodity” (that is himself) explains the working class’s antagonism toward capitalism as Lukács saw it. While the proletariat fully grasps the contradiction of its self-conscious commodification, the class can only come to terms with the contradiction by upending and abolishing existing conditions.

Feminists and postmodern theorists later appropriated standpoint epistemology and siphoned it through various identity filters. It is the root of the contemporary social justice belief in the connection between identity and knowledge. Social justice holds that membership in a subordinated identity group grants members exclusive access to particular knowledge, their own knowledge. Members of dominant identity groups can­not access or understand the knowledge of subordinated others. For example, a white “cishetero” male (a white straight man who accepts the gender that he was “assigned at birth”) cannot have a black lesbian’s experience and therefore can’t access or understand her knowledge. Individuals within subordinated identity groups also have their own individual knowledge. For social justice believers, knowledge is personal, individual, and impenetrable to others. It is “muh knowledge.” I call this notion of knowledge “epistemological solipsism.” Under the social justice worldview, everyone is locked in an impenetrable identity chrysalis with access to a personal knowledge that no one else can reach." (https://www.michaelrectenwald.com/essays/2019/4/10/libertarianisms-versus-postmodernism-and-social-justice-ideology)


'Critical Social Justice' Usage

From New Discourses:

1. Hill Collins, Patricia. Intersectionality (Key Concepts). Wiley. Kindle Edition, p. 2.

"Intersectionality is a way of understanding and analyzing the complexity in the world, in people, and in human experiences. The events and conditions of social and political life and the self can seldom be understood as shaped by one factor. They are generally shaped by many factors in diverse and mutually influencing ways. When it comes to social inequality, people’s lives and the organization of power in a given society are better understood as being shaped not by a single axis of social division, be it race or gender or class, but by many axes that work together and influence each other. Intersectionality as an analytic tool gives people better access to the complexity of the world and of themselves." (https://newdiscourses.com/tftw-intersectionality/)


2. Thompson, Sherwood. Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social Justice. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition, p. 435.

"Our experiences of the social world are shaped by our ethnicity, race, social class, gender identity, sexual orientation, and numerous other facets of social stratification. Some social locations afford privilege (e.g., being white) while others are oppressive (e.g., being poor). These various aspects of social inequality do not operate independently of each other; they interact to create interrelated systems of oppression and domination. The concept of intersectionality refers to how these various aspects of social location “intersect” to mutually constitute individuals’ lived experiences. The term itself was introduced by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989, although intersectional understandings of the social world precede her work." (https://newdiscourses.com/tftw-intersectionality/)


Discussion

1. New Discourses Commentary:

"Intersectionality is a concept developed by the feminist critical race theorist, Kimberlé Crenshaw. It uses the symbol of a traffic intersection where somebody—in her first examples, a black woman—could be hit by a combination of both racism and sexism at the same time and this experience be more complex than either prejudice on its own. Indeed, she points out that not only do black women have to deal with racism as being black and sexism as being a woman, but also the additional issues of specific prejudices about black women in particular and the burden of not knowing which of these three possible axes of discrimination is affecting her. Thus black men and white women should recognize that neither of their experiences of racism or sexism naturally covers that of the black woman whose experiences warrant distinct analysis.

We hasten to note that there is merit in this observation. On a practical, legal level, a genuine loophole in discrimination law existed, and an “intersectional” analysis in the context of critical legal theory was capable of and sufficient for pointing it out and hopefully leading to its correction. Moreover, the observation that a doubly minoritized individual experiences at least three different possible ways she might be discriminated against and lack simple epistemic pathways to understanding and resolving the problem is also legitimate and worth consideration.

Unfortunately, intersectionality did not remain within the theoretical and applicable domains of law or merely make a useful point about the nature of discrimination. Instead, it included from the outset the analysis of systemic power dynamics as conceived under postmodernism (borrowing heavily from Foucault’s notions of power and knowledge, in particular) and was proposed specifically as a mechanism for advancing identity politics (indeed, it was proposed explicitly to link identity politics to postmodern theory, thus giving birth to the contemporary Critical Social Justice approach).

While Crenshaw was critical of some aspects of postmodernism, particularly its willingness to deconstruct identity and oppression, she also criticized liberal approaches and maintained the core ethos of postmodern analysis, which is a combination of radical skepticism and (poststructuralist) deconstructive techniques. To this, she added critical theory and open advocacy for an identity-first model for the application of identity politics (see also, New Left and black liberationism).

In this sense, the development of intersectionality, especially in Crenshaw’s second paper on the topic, called “Mapping the Margins” (1991), can be considered a landmark moment in our cultural turn toward critical identity politics as a potential replacement for liberalism. There, she overtly reifies socially constructed racial categories like “black” and “white,” as did and do genuine racists and as liberalism had been effectively eroding in the decades between (see also, anti-essentialism and strategic essentialism).

Intersectionality very quickly adopted and modified standpoint epistemology, which claims roughly that one’s position (with respect to the systemic power dynamics defining social reality and its interactions) determines the possibilities for one’s knowledge(s) and status as a knower, which in turn reflexively define one’s relationship to dominance and oppression (see also, epistemic oppression and power-knowledge.) This was Theorized by black feminist Patricia Hill Collins as a “Matrix of Domination” in her landmark 1990 book, Black Feminist Thought.

The concept of intersectionality has since been developed to include many other identities considered marginalized including sexuality, gender identity, dis/ability, and weight and even more gradations within all those categories. It has thus become very complicated and difficult to address and sometimes looks like a form of competitive victimhood. In some sense, this is because intersectionality is what results from applying one critical theory of identity to another, beginning with critical race theory to critical theories of feminism. This enabled the various critical theories of identity to problematize one another, which intersectionalists go on to refer to as “sophistication.”

Crenshaw has gone on to describe intersectionality as a “practice,” which is unsurprising since she tied the concept to praxis from the very beginning (see also, critical pedagogy). In practice, intersectionality means, in the words of critical whiteness educator Robin DiAngelo, “positionality must constantly be engaged.” What this means is that one must cultivate an awareness of the various ways in which one’s group identities “intersect” to provide privilege and create oppression, and one must acknowledge these in all situations and reflect (if not act) upon their relevance in all behaviors, especially social interactions. This is considered an ongoing and lifelong practice and is not negotiable. Of note, it requires recognizing that in all social interactions, there are systemic power dynamics (like racism, sexism, heterosexism, and so on, as appropriate) that are in play and must be acknowledged by the relationally dominant participant (as it is Theorized that the relationally oppressed person is aware of them automatically – see also, white innocence)." (https://newdiscourses.com/tftw-intersectionality/)


2. Kristin Moe:

" “People don’t have one dimensional identities as human beings,” says Brooke Anderson—a Labor Fellow at the Oakland-based nonprofit, the Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project—and the issues that affect them aren’t one-dimensional, either.

There’s a word for this kind of thinking: "intersectionality." And while the word has been around for more than 25 years, it’s being used more and more frequently all over in social justice movements today, from climate to reproductive rights to immigration. It’s a way of thinking holistically about how different forms of oppression interact in people’s lives. More recently, it's also led to a more collaborative form of organizing that reflects that, rather than taking on one issue at a time.

“Intersectionality” has become a buzzword in activist circles, at conferences, and in progressive media. Google searches for this term have gone up 400 percent since 2009. Last year’s Power Shift youth climate conference featured a workshop called “Why the Climate Movement Must Be Intersectional.” It’s a trendy word in academia, the subject of countless papers and panel discussions, and in the feminist blogosphere.

But is it more than that? Does adoption of this concept signal a sea change in social movement thinking away from single-issue platforms and toward a more holistic worldview, one that fosters strong alliances and therefore might help build a movement broad and complex enough to take on the myriad forms of economic, racial, and gender oppression we face?

Possibly—but first, it’s important to understand what intersectionality really means. The term has evolved since Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor at UCLA and Columbia University, first coined the term in a legal article published in 1989. In the article, she tried to contextualize a 1964 lawsuit against General Motors, in which five black women sued for discrimination. They were prohibited from working in the factory, they claimed, which was reserved for black men. But they were also prohibited from working in the front offices, which were for white women.

The workers' case was dismissed, Crenshaw says, because the discrimination they faced didn’t apply to all women, or all blacks—just to black women. It was a loophole in legal protection. But for Crenshaw, it also revealed a larger pattern: that individuals have multiple identities, and the oppression they experience is the interaction of all of those identities.

Crenshaw was able to articulate what so many black women already knew: You can’t tease these identities apart, or prioritize one over the others. We are all of these things. A “single axis” approach to social change, then—advocating just for women’s rights, or just for racial equality—only addresses part of the problem.

Intersectionality grew out of black women’s lived experience, became a flashpoint in academia (where it is still heavily debated), and has since trickled back out into the world of organizing. The meaning has expanded over the years from a concept specific to black women to something applicable to all types of marginalized identities—Asian, queer, immigrant, trans, low-income, Muslim. Bringing it to the movements

Some call intersectionality "divisive," because they believe it highlights the differences between people rather than the similarities. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The meaning of the term has evolved from a way of describing the problem—the interactions between different forms of oppression—to a way of describing the solution.

The challenge now seems to be to take the complex analysis of those problems, and create a movement that reflects that complexity." (http://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/get-intersectional-why-your-movement-can-t-go-it-alone)


Intersectionality as an upper class phenomenom

1.

"It’s true that every day, for example, every Black person faces the possibility of police violence. It’s also true, however, that every day, every Black person faces the definite obstacle of having to acquire money for food, rent, healthcare, and transit, etc. This can be extended in various ways by various analogies to women, the LGBT community, immigrants, and all oppressed groups.

It might sound insensitive to say that the main problem facing most women is actually not sexism. Obviously sexism is a huge problem and it’s not like it shouldn’t be opposed. But it’s actually more intersectional, more feminist, to oppose the problem which is a bigger problem for more women than sexism. The bigger, more immediate life-and-death problem facing most women is economics, money, the standard of living, capitalism. Of course it’s difficult to even separate capitalism and sexism, given that the way capitalism operates is so sexist and the distribution of money can literally be quantified as sexist in the form of unequal pay. Still, the most pressing problems facing most women are the most problems facing most men: how do I eat? How do I pay rent? Do I have a job, how do I get to it? Healthcare? How do I pay the expenses of kids or prevent kids from happening?

This is not to say demographic-specific demands should never be raised. This is to say that the Left should shift its emphasis and core messaging towards a greater imitation of the success achieved by the pivot in emphasis toward class struggle and economic demands undertaken by the Sanders campaign and by socialist Seattle city councilor Kshama Sawant. It’s not black-and-white: raise demands, or never raise them. It’s about frequency and proportion — how much do you raise them, how much time and space and focus do you give them? — a question of balance.

A truly more intersectional coalition message would place a primary emphasis on class struggle and economic demands, while still raising demographic-specific demands, precisely in order to reflect the fact that economic problems are the primary, biggest problems of doubly-oppressed groups, and in fact economic problems even affect doubly-oppressed groups more than the rest of the working class in general. There is also a different context for how and where such demands would be raised — rather than waging a rainbow of a million single-issue campaigns, the Left might focus resources on class organizing and fight for diversity, inclusion, tolerance, and against discrimination in the context of the workplace, etc, and then return to trying to affect laws at the political/national level once we have actually built a mass labor base to have a real impact upon them.

What I am trying to do is push back against a de-classed, over-specialized form of intersectionality that displays no interest in building class unity or an ability to work with ordinary people. Who is this type of intersectionality actually geared towards? Is it towards middle-class academic elites of oppressed groups, as have often been proposed? Actually I think the truth is even worse. In truth I think this non-proletarian form of “intersectionality” (is it really intersectionality if it doesn’t include the working masses?) is actually geared towards the upper-middle class demographic of academia and NGOs, and thus rather than being some kind of oppressed comprador bourgeoisie project (though it may sometimes be that), is actually mostly embraced by a white, sometimes male upper-middle class scene. Obviously it is not geared towards the actual working (and non-working) masses of doubly-oppressed groups, who might as well exist on another planet from these effete intra-Left disputes and may literally never hear the word “intersectionality” in their lifetimes.

Against the expectations of moralistic activists, people who focus on class or economic demands may actually develop a much closer relationship with people and communities of doubly-oppressed groups than activists who focus on special demands specific to those communities ever do." (https://imperiumadinfinitum.wordpress.com/2016/11/11/class-is-more-intersectional-than-intersectionality/?)


2. Cedric Johnson:

"Adolph Reed, Jr.’s “How Racial Disparity Does Not Help Make Sense of Patterns of Police Violence,” should be read again and often during this moment of resurgent Black Lives Matter sentiment, precisely because he so clearly names the limitations of anti-racism as a way of thinking about the problems of carceral power, and cautions against any left-progressive politics that separates racism from historical processes and political economy. As Reed notes, “antiracism is not a different sort of egalitarian alternative to a class politics but is a class politics itself.” Furthermore, antiracist politics is essentially “the left wing of neoliberalism in that its sole metric of social justice is opposition to disparity in the distribution of goods and bads in the society, an ideal that naturalizes the outcomes of capitalist market forces so long as they are equitable along racial (and other identitarian) lines.

...


We have all witnessed how readily different class layers have embraced the slogan over the last weeks. Some activists have seized upon the images of mass protests as evidence of a gathering political will, but the amorphous nature of Black Lives Matter, which Reed rightly compared to the Black Power slogan from decades earlier, and the facile expressions of unity in endless memes and viral videos of police-civilian line dances conceal substantive political differences among protestors and within broader U.S. publics. While a slim majority of Americans now believe police are more likely to use excessive force against blacks than other groups, millions more do not share the most militant calls to defund or dismantle police departments voiced by some activists.1 Most Americans are upset by police killings, but they also want more effective policing. Over the last five years, satisfaction with police has strengthened among all ethnic and racial groups, including African Americans (from 50% “at least somewhat satisfied” in 2015 to 72% now).

Black Lives Matter sentiment is essentially a militant expression of racial liberalism. Such expressions are not a threat but rather a bulwark to the neoliberal project that has obliterated the social wage, gutted public sector employment and worker pensions, undermined collective bargaining and union power, and rolled out an expansive carceral apparatus, all developments that have adversely affected black workers and communities. Sure, some activists are calling for defunding police departments and de-carceration, but as a popular slogan, Black Lives Matter is a cry for full recognition within the established terms of liberal democratic capitalism. And the ruling class agrees.” (https://nonsite.org/editorial/the-triumph-of-black-lives-matter-and-neoliberal-redemption?)




Examples

"Examples of issue organizing across issues abound: National Nurses United lobbying to stop Keystone XL; The Black Women’s Health Imperative taking on the myriad ways in which the bodies of women of color are put at risk; “Undocuqueers”—undocumented, LGBTQ immigrants—lobbying for citizenship rights for same-sex couples." (http://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/get-intersectional-why-your-movement-can-t-go-it-alone)